The book includes a lot of racer profiles, and about half are women. It surprised me, when I started running, to find how open the sport is to women, and adventure racing is even more so. Beyond this, the profiles involve people with serious obstacles to overcome, including spina bifida, paraplegia, and cancer. We don't find out until late in the book that De Sena himself nearly lost his leg in an auto collision before founding the Spartan Race. There should be a concordance listing every known health condition, tabulated by Spartan who has it and ran anyway.
De Sena's thesis is that voluntarily putting ourselves through extreme conditions toughens us up, so that we can handle the inevitable challenges of daily life. He calls it obstacle immunity. "If you can handle a Spartan Race, you can handle anything else life sends your way, and that's true whether you're going blind, battling cancer, homeless, morbidly obese, or simply struggling to get through each day." He offers historical references to rugged people of the past, such as Lewis and Clark, who essentially did a marathon a day for twenty-eight months. Good point. I grew up in Oregon, and I often think of the women and children who walked the entire route, up to thirty miles a day, while the men sat in the wagons driving the oxen. Our soft industrial lifestyles would fill most humans throughout history with total disbelief.
The Spartan way makes a lot of sense to me. Social bonds, gratitude, delayed gratification, eating unprocessed food, living a value system that includes honor, generosity, and valor. De Sena talks about how to develop grit, set priorities, and become more decisive. This he refers to as the Rule of Upside Downside. Quickly assess the potential upside and downside of a decision, prioritizing health, family, business, and then fun. For instance, the upside of sitting on my couch and reading a book is self-evident. The downside? If that was all I ever did, I'd quickly go back to where I was with chronic pain and fatigue. I suspect that most of the world's willpower evaporates due to indecisiveness. Not until Spartan Up!, however, did I realize that there is such a strong connection between decisiveness, self-discipline, and positive results.
This is the kind of book that you will either love, or you wouldn't even be interested in picking it up. A life of voluntary difficulty is a contrarian life. The easy route is easy partly because it's well-trodden and clearly marked. People like it that way. Others, though, take one look at the steep and muddy alternate trail and want to run up it. I leaned that way already, but this book has gotten under my skin.
My favorite quote: "Everyone has to suffer to put things in perspective, and bitching burns between zero and zero calories a minute, so there's no use in complaining about your hardships."
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.